Dr Liz YardleyDr Liz Yardley – Lecturer in Sociology

Suggestions for a ‘Brummie History Week’, welcome packs for new residents and ‘Brummie Ambassadors’ have all stemmed from the recent City Council inquiry looking at levels of social cohesion in the area. The very fact that such an enquiry was commissioned suggests that there were concerns that ‘social cohesion’ in the city is somewhat lacking. But what is ‘social cohesion’ anyway and why should we care about it?

In general terms, people who study social cohesion are concerned with the connections within and between groups of people in a particular locality. The idea of social cohesion is inextricably linked to ideas of social identity and the various labels we attach to ourselves and others – old, young, middle class, working class, white, Asian, Muslim, Sikh, male, female. Who are we, how do we define ourselves, with whom do we have something in common and how do we attach ourselves to others around us? Given the increased geographical mobility of many groups of people in recent years for a plethora of different reasons – study, work, family life – regional and specifically city-based identities do sometimes appear to be less prominent than they once were.

But what’s the big deal? Should we even care about this when many of us are increasingly concerned with the day to day challenge of making ends meet? Should we bother to take the time and effort to identify and develop a shared sense belonging to this city? Many will take the position that this is all a waste of time (and resource), an exercise in rhetoric and ‘branding’ debated by intellectuals detached from life on the ground in Birmingham. And whilst I do have some sympathy with this position, I feel that there is something to be gained by taking a step back and thinking about what we can learn from the Brummies of the past to enrich our lives as Brummies of the present and future.

Birmingham has a history of diversity, innovation, and dynamism but I think the most valuable lessons we can draw come from individual stories. Birmingham has been the setting of many lives marked by poverty, prejudice and injustice, from which we can draw inspiration in our own daily struggles. Those to whom I look for inspiration include Kathleen Dayus, a remarkable Hockley woman born in 1903 who endured many trials and tribulations during her life but was able to combine her own unwavering determination with the support of a strong, close knit community of Brummies around her to keep fighting no matter what came her way.

So if we are to take forward the recommendations of the City Council’s Inquiry, we must do so without becoming obsessed with quick-wins and flashy marketing. Rather than inviting people to engage with slogans and gimmicks, which we’ll all forget about very quickly, let’s see how we can draw inspiration from some real Birmingham people who may have lived in different times but had similar thoughts keeping them awake at night as Brummies in 2013.

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Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.